The title essay in this book does not engage in a debate with the polemical opponents of literary theory; to Paul de Man, the resistance to theory is inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself, and the real debate is with its own methodological assumptions and possibilities. The core of his argument in this essay (and in those that follow) lies in the old opposition between theoria and aesthesis - terms that embody, on the one hand, a linguistic, specifically rhetorical approach to literature and, on the other, a phenomenological, aesthetic, or hermeneutic approach - and all the implications those two modes carry with them. The resistance to theory, says de Man, is a resistance to the use of language about language; it is a resistance to reading, and a resistance to the rhetorical or figurative dimensions of language.
The six related essays in The Resistance to Theory were written by de Man in the few years that preceded his death in December 1983. Undertaken to find out why the theoretical enterprise is blind to, or "resists," the radical nature of reading, the essays share not only a theme but also the pedagogical intent that is central to most of his work. These concerns, implicit in the title essay, are openly argued in "The Return to Philology." Each of the remaining essays is devoted to a specific theorist: Michael Riffaterre, Hans Robert Jauss, Walter Benjamin, and Mikhail Bakhtin. The Resistance to Theory also includes a 1983 interview with de Man conducted for Italian radio, and a complete bibliography of his work. Wlad Godzich's foreword tells how de Man's late work was conceived and organized for publication, and discusses some of the basic terms in his discourse.
"Indispensable. . . . There is resistance to 'theory' and also confusion about its status with reference to both philosophy and criticism. De Man's defense of theory is subtle but uncompromising, and highly personal in its 'aporetic' conclusion."
- Frank Kermode, Columbia University
Paul de Man was Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University. His books include Blindness and Insight (1971; revised edition, Minnesota, 1983), Allegories of Reading ( 1980), and The Rhetoric of Romanticism (1984).